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Eric Vander Voort | | February 2, 2021

How do seeds perform in the Final Four?

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When filling out your bracket, it’s good to not get too caught up in the first-round upset picks. The deeper you go into the tournament, the more points you get per game. In fact, it's often better to start your picks with the Final Four and work your way backwards. But when thinking about Final Four picks, what should you look for? Which seeds are the safest choices?

Take a look at the below chart, which detail the frequency of seeds making the Final Four, championship game and winning the national championship.

1 57 34 22
2 29 12 5
3 17 12 4
4 13 3 1
5 7 3 0
6 3 2 1
7 3 1 1
8 5 3 1
9 1 0 0
10 1 0 0
11 4 0 0
12 0 0 0
13 0 0 0
14 0 0 0
15 0 0 0
16 0 0 0

Note: The data goes back to 1985, when the tournament was expanded to 64 teams.

Here are some takeaways from the data:

No. 1 seeds are No. 1 seeds for a reason.

Of the 35 champions since 1985, 22 of them are No. 1 seeds. Ten of the past 13 title winners have come from the top line. As crazy as March can be, the best teams of the regular season have the most success in the postseason.

Crazy upsets stick in our minds. They are some of the most memorable moments of the tournament and will show up on “One Shining Moment,” but even if a top seed is eliminated early, there are most likely three left.

But, expect at least some of the unexpected.

Even with the successes of No. 1 seeds in the Final Four and championship game, there has only been one Final Four in which all four top seeds from the field made it: 2008, when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA were all there.

Other than that, three No. 1 seeds have made it just five times. Final Fours have had slightly more No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds (57) than No. 1 seeds (56). It's good to keep an eye out for a potential powerhouse from those seed lines.

Picking a Cinderella to go to the Final Four probably isn’t worth it

It’s happened a few times. Four No. 11 seeds went to the Final Four – 1986 LSU, 2006 George Mason, 2011 VCU and 2018 Loyola Chicago. Villanova won the championship as a No. 8 seed in 1985. In 2016, Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to make a Final Four. But even looking at data from millions of entries in the past six years of the Capital One Bracket Challenge Game, it’s OK to miss those.

The top four finishers in the Bracket Challenge Game in 2011 only got half of of the Final Four right. The key was that they got the championship game (Butler vs. Connecticut) and champion (Connecticut) right. In 2013, the top five finishers all missed Wichita State, which made the Final Four.

What the data shows us is that it’s important to get later rounds right, but it’s better to go with higher seeds, because even if Cinderella dances, the likelihood of having that right plus the other three teams correct is not very high. It happens, but it's far from common. Of the 140 Final Four teams since 1991, just 14 (10 percent) have been seeded seventh or worse.

Good luck bracketing.

College basketball rankings: Even unranked teams find success in the NCAA tournament

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — its modern format — only four of 35 national champions were unranked to start the season. That’s about one in every nine years.

Only .025 percent predicted the 2021 Final Four teams in the Bracket Challenge Game

UCLA's upset of No. 1 Michigan in the Elite Eight turned what could have been a record-high number of perfect picks into a tiny number that went 4-for-4.

A huge majority of NCAA brackets have a No. 1 seed winning the 2021 championship

Here is how many brackets predicted each seed to win the national championship, from Gonzaga and the No. 1 seeds through Drexel and the rest of the No. 16 seeds.
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